New Species Of Tardigrade Discovered In Japan: How To Find These Tiny Animals

Bizarre new eight-legged Tardigrade species discovered in Japanese parking lot
A tardigrade under a scanning microscope. Tardigrades or water bears can be found practically anywhere but they’re so small at less than a millimeter, it’s hard to spot them using the bare eye. Look for them in rocks, trees, and moss.  ( Diane R. Nelson | National Park Service )

A researcher found a new species of Tardigrade in Japan. Tardigrades or water bears are aquatic micro animals that can survive extreme environments.

The macrobiotus shonaicus tardigrade species that a Japanese molecular biology researcher discovered was in a lump of moss that he scooped from the parking lot of his apartment in Tsuruoka City.

Tardigrades, sometimes also referred to as moss piglets, have barrel-shaped bodies and four pairs of legs. Tardigrades have no eyes and vision capabilities, and the animal only uses its antenna to search for food. They eat often eat algae, bacteria or single-celled animals.

How to Find Terrestrial Tardigrades

Lichens and mosses that grow on trunks of trees and rocks often serve as habitat for tardigrade species.

The easiest way to find a tardigrade is to collect a clump of moss or, either wet or dry lichen from trees or soil.

Place the specimen moss or lichen in a shallow dish and soak in water, either distilled or rainwater for three to four hours. After removing the excess water, observe tardigrades in the clump of moss under a microscope.

"Most of (the) tardigrade species were described from mosses and lichens - thus any cushion of moss seems to be interesting for people working on tardigrades," says Kazuharu Arakawa, the researcher who discovered the new species of tardigrades that can survive in a laboratory.

Where To Find Them?

Genetic studies of tardigrades show that they originally lived in freshwater environments before adapting to land and moist habitats.

Since tardigrades have high survival rate in extreme environments, they can be found in almost all habitats on the planet - from forests to the Arctic.

They can thrive in the deep sea, mountaintops, forests, and other harsh environments.

Back in 2006, Diane Nelson and Paul J. Bartels published a study on Hydrobiologia detailing 42 species of tardigrades found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The said park even allow students to experience tardigrades during their visit.

Marine tardigrades live in freshwater or semiaquatic terrestrial environments. Tardigrades may also be in sand dunes, soil, sediments, and even leaf litter.

Tardigrades can survive even low vacuum environments. Adult tardigrades were dehydrated and brought to low-Earth orbit in 2007 by the European Space Agency on board the FOTON-M3 mission.

For ten days, researchers exposed the micro animals to outer space and solar ultraviolet radiation. A few of the subjects revived within 30 minutes after rehydration. After that mission, tardigrades earned recognition for being the first known animals to survive outer space.

When not in water, tardigrades can still adapt to its environment by undergoing cryptobiosis or a state where metabolic activities come to a reversible standstill or a death-like state. When dehydrated, tardigrades go into anhydrobiosis wherein they curl into a ball-like shape or 'tun' and still survive for a decade until they are hydrated again.

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